Cargo Bike Life in Galway: Doing the sums on owning a second car, a €6,000 electric cargo bike suddenly didn’t seem completely outrageous

Comment & Analysis: We bought our longtail cargo bike last June. It’s a Trek Fetch 2 model, costing with accessories nearly €6,000. We didn’t think one of our big outlays in life would be a bike. A house, yes. A new car, probably. But a bike? Costing €6,000? How could we justify it to ourselves, let alone everyone else who looked at us in disbelief over the price.

My wife Roisin and I have three kids, ages 5, 8, and 10, and we cycle everywhere. The school the kids attend is less than 1km away. My own school, where I teach, is a further km up the road. My wife teaches across the city, and with poor public transport and no safe way to cycle. We have a car — and a big one at that.

So, cycling is a normal part of our everyday life, and I’ve been an activist within the community pushing for safer and segregated cycling for quite a while. I started the Galway CycleBus over six years ago to show that demand exists for safe cycling to schools even in the absence of safe roads. I’m also a new councillor for the Social Democrats in Galway City West, elected on a platform of creating safer and more sustainable active communities.

We cycle to school, to the shops, to training, but as the kids got older and started participating in more sports and activities, the reality of ferrying the kids to different training times at different locations all over the city caused logistical nightmares.

With our poor cycling infrastructure, I was happy to let my kids cycle around our community, but I wasn’t happy to let them cycle even accompanied, further afield or to blitzes on the other side of the city. Cycling to Bearna, Moycullen or Renmore for matches wasn’t a realistic option. Our bus service is not frequent or reliable enough, and we had the discussion about buying a second family car to ease this pressure like so many other families have.

That’s when the financial cost of buying a second car really presented itself. Another car, even a small car, was going to cost us in excess of €15k. Insurance- €500. Motor Tax — €200. Yearly fuel bill – €1,000. Depreciation – €2k a year. In fact, the AA calculated that the average cost of running a family car is over €10,000 per year!

Spending €6,000 on a cargo bike with zero running costs suddenly didn’t seem completely outrageous.

A friend of mine, Gráinne Faller, was the first person I knew to buy an electric cargo bike. She bought a blue BiciCapace JustLong about three years ago. I remember seeing her husband Steve at the supermarket, throwing an entire trolley full of groceries into it with ease, and seeing Grainne cycle along the prom in Salthill with her two kids in the back, laughing and smiling. It got me thinking: This might be the solution we’re looking for.

Fast forward to last year, Roisin and I were walking past Kearney’s bike shop in Terryland when we spotted the new Trek in the shop window. It was really catching. Cathal, a local lad from Menlo who worked in the shop was gushing in his praise of the bike. He had two young kids as well, and with two child seats attached to the rear, he used it every day to ferry his gang to creche and to school.

A quick spin in the car park and we were half-sold. But you’d never spend that much money on an impulse and massive credit to Cathal, he gave us the bike for the entire day. He said: “Bring it home, bring the kids to the playground in it and see if it’s something that could work for you.”

Needless to say, it was an instant hit with the entire family.

A bike that’s suitable for both of us to cycle. Small wheels for precise manoeuvrability. A step-through frame suitable for any clothing. Comfortable upright riding position. Easily adjusted saddle. An exceptional battery and motor (Bosch CargoLine), and a decent adjustable range from eco (60km) to the kids favourite turbo (20km).

But what sold it for us was the capacity and utility of the bike. From a front basket that could take 10kg of shopping to the rear panniers, which can accommodate loads of up to 72kg — either two kids, a full shop, or a bit of both.

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Financially, with the Cycle to Work Scheme giving tax incentives for up to €3,000 of the value of a cargo bike and manageable monthly repayments at 0% interest, it was a no-brainer compared to the purchase and running costs of a second car.

We’ve had it now for over a year, and just passed the 3,000km mark in total mileage. It’s used nearly every day to bring kids to school, to training and matches. We do our weekly shop in it, getting a full trolley into the panniers with still room for the 5-year-old. We’ve collected our Christmas tree with it, brought large compost and mulch bags back from the gardening centre, and for the run to the bottle bank. It also was pretty useful during the campaign season for lugging a ladder around with 50 posters!

For sure, it won’t be for everyone. Our roads out there are still not safe, and irregardless of the bike, we need better segregation to make our network of cycle lanes more accessible and connected for everyone to use. It also needs to be workable for any family. We’ve a garage so taking the bike out for a quick spin to the shop is as easy and convenient as grabbing the car keys. Lugging it into and out of a shed and around the side of the house would be difficult, especially considering its 40kg weight!

I’ve never been one to claim that families can live without a car. It’s not practical. We use ours every day, as much as we don’t want to at times, because we know the impact it has on the community, on the air, on the environment around us, especially the large SUV that it is. But nearly every family I know has a second car. A cargo bike is now a credible, realistic, affordable alternative for those who want a more sustainable, healthier and active way to move around their communities. They were once a novelty on our roads, but now there’s a fleet of cargo bikes all over Knocknacarra and Salthill.

Drop into your local bike shop and ask for a trial, and I promise it’ll change your perspective like it has ours. It’s the best investment our family has ever made.

4 comments

  1. It’s great to see the cycle to work scheme been more beneficial like shown here as a family car replacement but there are small running costs like esb and service charges but still it is nothing compared to esb and service charges on an ev car

    Reply
    • Yeah, with any bike there are running costs, since even if you do your own repairs there is the cost of parts, and there are extra running costs with electric assist, around the motor and battery, or with a bike that has unusual components. But it’s far from €10k a year. I found a non-electric bike can be as little as a few cent a kilometre, averaged over a few years.

      I also dissent a little from the idea that a family absolutely can’t live without at least one car, since mine always has, but it depends on circumstances, including of course where you live, and Galway does historically seem to have had councillors who were determined to deny its population the lifestyle advantages of being a city.

      It’s a very good article, and it does highlight the potential of electric-assist cargo bikes to help people avoid the cost of a second car, much like car share and car rental can.

      Reply
  2. Similar scenario for myself recently. I’ve been WFH since pre COVID but now down to one day a month in the office and was only using the second car for the school runs two days a week (6km round trip). The car failed the NCT last year and was repeatedly told you can’t manage with one car in the country but I managed to convince my wife to trail it and so got a trailer for my bike and was using that from September to May.

    The kids were getting a bit heavy so I recently got myself a Bike 43 from Rothar. It was expensive (not much change from €7,000 once seats, rain covers etc thrown in) but I got myself a top of the line piece of equipment rather than some POS car that could easily fall apart after 6 months.

    I live near Headford in north Galway so it’s country roads rather than worrying about cycle lanes. There was some initial teething problems with the school run (and by teething problems I mean asshole driving) but once people got used to the idea of sharing the space with a bike I’ve had very few issues.

    Reply
  3. So awesome – we have 1 car and no real alternative. Cargo bikes are amazing and I wish it could work for me but unfortunately as stated in the article that storage is an issue. I have a charge mixer, which is an 8 geared alfine hub bike, steel frame. The hub has never been serviced in 12 years of use and is incredibly reliable. But it lives under a leantoo I built and the weather takes a toll on the bike in general.

    It’s awkward getting my bike in and out through the side gate, a cargo bike would be near impossible.

    Reply

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